The Worst Lunch Breaks in the World?

     INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – AT&T enforces such grim conditions on lunch breaks – no reading, no music, no heat or air-conditioning, guard the manholes – that it’s no break at all, technicians say in a federal class action.
     Lead plaintiff Deborah Sturgeon says AT&T’s lunch policy is so onerous it and encourages technicians to work through their break without pay.
     Sturgeon and 10 other named plaintiffs from Indiana sued AT&T Teleholdings, Indiana Bell, Ameritech Services and AT&T Services.
     The technicians do a variety of jobs, including underground cable or manhole work and installing Internet, telephone and cable services. They work 8- to 9-hour shifts, with an unpaid lunch break of 30 to 60 minutes.
     It’s hardly a break though, the class claims: “First, technicians assigned to underground cable (or manhole work) are subject to the specific restriction that they must remain at the site of the manhole and guard it throughout the lunch break.
     “Second, technicians not assigned to manhole work may eat their lunches at eating establishments outside of their vehicles, but under heavy restriction as to where. Specifically, they are required to break while en route from one assigned job site to another along GPS-monitored routes prescribed by the company, and are prohibited from deviating more than one-half mile from those routes (even in rural areas).
     “Leaving the prescribed route by more than the half mile permitted during the lunch break is grounds for discipline; yet more often than not, finding a place to eat within the half mile is difficult to impossible.
     “Third, technicians may eat packed lunches in the company vehicle rather than attempting to find an establishment within the prescribed radius from their routes, but rules designed and enforced to preserve the company’s public image prohibit them – after the few minutes that consuming the packed lunch typically requires – from using the remainder of the 30 to 60 minute unpaid lunch break for any personal activities such as reading newspapers, magazines, or books in the vehicle, napping or using personal laptops or CD players, etc.
     “Further, and regardless or the weather, AT&T Midwest does not permit these technicians to idle their vehicles, and hence prohibits their use of heating or air conditioning in the vehicle during the course of the unpaid lunch break.”
     Breaking any of these rules can get them disciplined, the class claims.
     And, they say, AT&T’s performance evaluation ranking system “puts the technicians under significant pressure to work through the unpaid lunch breaks in order to complete as many jobs as possible in each work shift.”
     “In combination, the company’s restrictions on movement and activities during the unpaid lunch break and its productivity measurement system put pressure on the technicians to work through all or part of the lunch break without pay (rather than sitting in a potentially cold or overheated vehicle doing nothing).”
     The class seeks an injunction and punitive damages for violations of the Fair Labor Standard Act, and violations of Indiana’s wage and record-keeping laws.
     They are represented by Kimberly Jeselskis.

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